Van Wyck Brooks Historic District is the largest of the six residential Historic Districts in Plainfield and encompasses 152 properties. Architecturally, it represents a cross section of the residential building history of the city. The oldest structure, the Manning Stelle farmhouse at 981 Central Avenue, a portion of which was built in 1803, is a survivor of Plainfield’s earliest days as a rural farming village. The farm was subdivided in the 1850's and most of the District's houses are situated on that land. The Plainfield Public Library is the only Public Building in the District. Built in the 1960’s its predecessor was established in the nineteenth century on the same site.
Between 1875 and 1925, large upper-middle class dwellings were built in a wide range of turn of the century architectural styles in what is now the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District. Italianate, Second Empire, Victorian Gothic, Stick Style, Queen Anne, Shingle Style, Colonial Revival and Tutor Revival mansions lined the streets, conspicuous symbols of wealth and notable for quality of construction and ornamental detailing. A number of the residences were designed by New York architects and some, like A.L.C. Marsh, who specialized in “country homes,” lived in Plainfield. At least seven houses in the district were featured in Scientific American between 1893 and 1905. Other homes in the area were were singled out in various publications promoting Plainfield. The highest overall design quality is exhibited in the Queen Anne and Shingle Style/Colonial Revival houses in the district.
In 1982 the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District was designated by the City of Plainfield as a Historic District and placed on the National Register in 1986. This designation was part of a continuous trend in recognizing the quality of Plainfield’s special housing stock, with an ordinance protecting structures in accordance with Historic Preservation Commission Design Guidelines.
The District was named for one of its famous residents, Van Wyck Brooks, prolific author, literary historian and critic, who spent his formative years at 563 West Eighth Street, a large yellow brick home built by his grandfather Ames. In 1937 he won the Pulitzer prize for "The Flowering of New England”. In “Scenes and Portraits: Memories of Childhood and Youth”, published in 1954, Brooks refers to Plainfield as a Wall Street Suburb and observed there were over one hundred millionaires living in the City.
The Van Wyck Brooks Historic District is a cohesive neighborhood notable for the early suburban architecture significant in the development of Plainfield as a wealthy commuter suburb during the late 19th century. In 1864 the arrival of the railroad linked the small village of Plainfield with New York, at first bringing vacationers for revitalization with the waters of its famed artesian wells, and subsequently bringing permanent residents who commuted in their club cars to offices in New York.